Senate approves $25 million for wind pool to help Gulf Coast

Published 12:12 am Sunday, March 2, 2008

Freshman Sen. Michael Watson knows the sting of rising insurance costs on the hurricane-battered Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Watson said after Hurricane Katrina struck more than two years ago, he lost his home’s wind insurance with Farm Bureau so he joined the state wind pool.

The wind pool is the insurer of last resort for those who need wind in high-risk areas where no private insurer will provide coverage. Even with that coverage Watson, a Republican from Pascagoula, said his premium has tripled. He’s paying more than $2,200 a year for wind alone.

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“I think that it’s first and foremost the biggest obstacle we have in rebuilding. If you can’t obtain insurance, then you’re at a standstill,” Watson said. “You can’t buy a new piece of property and start building if you don’t have insurance on it. You can’t get a loan.”

Watson’s comments came Friday, the same day the Mississippi Senate passed a bill that would transfer $25 million to a fund that assists the wind pool. The cash infusion would help reduce rates for property owners, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo.

Nunnelee said Friday that he’s been told if the money is not provided then rates could increase by 30 percent. Otherwise, he said, property owners could see a decrease.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has said rates increased 90 percent for homeowners and 162 percent for businesses after Katrina’s storm surge devastated the region. Some insurance companies stopped writing new policies. That led to a spike in the number insured by the wind pool, which is funded by assessing all insurance companies that provide property coverage in the state.

The wind pool has about 36,000 policies, most of them are homeowners in six south Mississippi counties of Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George. When the storm hit, the wind pool only had 16,000 policies, said Joe Shoemaker, manager of the wind pool.

The average premium for a residential wind pool policy for windstorm and hail is $1,850 a year, Shoemaker said, adding that some policies are a lot higher.

Sen. Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi, said he gets calls every weekend from coast residents about insurance. Gollott said the problem can’t be handled on the state level alone. He said he’s asked Mississippi’s congressional delegate to support legislation to create a federal remedy similar to the National Flood Insurance Program.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., is pushing an insurance bill he co-sponsored in Congress. The bill would add wind coverage to the NFIP. Critics say such legislation is financially unsound.

The bill is Senate Bill 3103.